Freddie Lee Pitts
Freddie Lee Pitts and Wilbert Lee, both African-American, were convicted and sentenced to death for the 1963 murder of two white gas station attendants in Florida, despite a complete lack of physical evidence. Prosecutors used confessions that were extracted through beatings, testimony of a suspicious eyewitness, and polygraph tests taken under extreme duress to win their case. A few weeks after Freddie and Wilbert were sentenced to death, a white man sentenced to life for another homicide admitted to the killings.
Despite learning of this confession, the local sheriff ignored it. A polygraph examiner who had heard the white man confess took the matter to the press, and soon a new trial was ordered. But astonishingly, Freddie and Wilbert were again convicted. After the second conviction, the alleged eyewitness recanted her testimony, and the state Attorney General admitted that the State had unlawfully suppressed evidence.
The defendants were released in 1975, when they received a full pardon from Governor Reubin Askew, who stated he was “sufficiently convinced that they were innocent.” In 1998, after a 20-year wait, Freddie was awarded $500,000 by the Florida Legislature. This marked the first time that the legislature ordered restitution for a person wrongly sentenced to death. Freddie and Wilbert’s case inspired the book, Invitation to a Lynching, written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Gene Miller.
Freddie has devoted his life to educating the public about the death penalty with his razor-sharp knowledge of the legal system that put him on death row. He resides in Miami Shores, Florida.
It's worthwhile to spend a few dollars and read the late Gene Miller's gripping book on Freddie's case, "Invitation to a Lynching." Miller's reporting on Freddie and his co-denfendant, Wilbert Lee, won him a Pulitzer Prize and helped to free Freddie and Wilbert from prison. You can order it here: www.amazon.com